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The health of Canadians and the country's social and economic progress, both now and in the future, are fundamentally linked to the quality of the environment. Recognizing this, the Government of Canada announced in the October 2004 Speech from the Throne its commitment to working with its provincial and territorial partners to build sustainable development1 systematically into its decision-making. To accomplish this, more reliable and more accessible information is needed to guide the actions of Canadians and their governments.

As part of this, Canadians need clearly defined environmental indicators—measuring sticks that can track the results that have been achieved through the efforts of governments, industries and individuals to protect and improve the environment. Following expert advice, three environmental indicators were selected by which the federal government and its partners can track progress and be held accountable in striving for cleaner water, cleaner air and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The indicators in this first annual report are as follows:

The air quality indicator tracks Canadians' exposure to ground-level ozone—a key component of smog and one of the most common and harmful air pollutants to which people are exposed. The use of the seasonal average of ozone concentrations reflects the potential for long-term health effects.

The greenhouse gas emissions indicator tracks the annual releases of the six greenhouse gases that are the major contributors to climate change. The indicator comes directly from the greenhouse gas inventory report prepared by Environment Canada for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. The data are widely used to report on progress toward Canada's Kyoto target for reduced emissions.

The freshwater quality indicator reports the status of surface water quality at selected monitoring sites across the country. For this first report, the focus of the indicator is on the protection of aquatic life, such as plants, invertebrates and fish. This new indicator uses the Water Quality Index, endorsed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, to summarize the extent to which water quality guidelines are exceeded in Canadian rivers and lakes.

These Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators supplement traditional health and economic measures, such as gross domestic product, so that Canadians can better understand the relationships that exist among the economy, the environment, and human health and well-being. They are intended to help those in government who are responsible for developing policy and measuring performance, as well as offering all Canadians more information about the trends in their environment. This report is not intended as a summary or evaluation of policies and management activities to address the issues measured by the indicators.

These indicators respond to the May 2003 recommendations of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy that the federal government establish a small set of easily understood environmental and sustainable development indicators to track factors of importance to Canadians (NRTEE 2003). Environment Canada, Statistics Canada and Health Canada are collaborating, on behalf of the Government of Canada, to develop and communicate these indicators.

The indicators are in different stages of development. This is the first time a national water quality indicator has been assembled from the different federal, provincial and joint monitoring programs across the country. The air quality indicator draws on a well-established national network of monitoring sites, but differs from existing indicators by weighting the results to reflect human population exposure. The greenhouse gas indicator is the most developed: it comes directly from the inventory developed by Environment Canada in response to international climate change requirements. For the first time, these core environmental indicators have been brought together in a single report.

This report and these indicator results are only a first step. Over the coming years, improvements will be made to their accuracy, relevance and usefulness to decision-makers and the public. Sources of these improvements include further scientific research on the linkages between air quality and human health, new surveys of businesses and households and their actions regarding the environment, and more integrated and representative national monitoring networks. The indicators are also a starting point for a publicly accessible information system where the underlying environmental data can be used and linked to social and economic information—with the goal of supporting decisions that better take these linkages into account.

For each indicator, this report presents the latest status and, where possible, the trends over time, an interpretation of what the indicator trends mean, and plans for future improvements. The report concludes with a discussion of how the indicators are linked.


1. Sustainable development is defined in federal legislation as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

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Date modified: 2005-12-14 Important Notices
Online catalogue Main page Executive summary Introduction Findings Conclusion Figures and maps Methods and data quality References More information PDF version Related products Online catalogue: Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators: Socio-economic Information